Conor McGregor might have answered the wrestling question, but he certainly wasn't prepared fully for it.
The new UFC interim featherweight champion was unable to do any live MMA sparring or wrestling in training camp due to a knee injury, his coach John Kavanagh told Ariel Helwani on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. Despite that, McGregor beat Chad Mendes, the best wrestler in the division, via second-round TKO at UFC 189 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
"I've gotta be honest, when we were walking out to this fight it was in the back of my mind that we haven't done a single round of live wrestling," Kavanagh said. "I had my eyebrows raised and thought, let's see what happens."
Mendes (17-3) did take McGregor down multiple times and did damage with ground and pound inside McGregor's guard. But as the second round progressed, Mendes got tired. When Mendes went for a mounted guillotine, McGregor scrambled to his feet. Seconds later, McGregor was swarming Mendes with punches en route to a finish.
Mendes took the fight on short notice, filling in for Jose Aldo just two weeks before UFC 189 when Aldo fell out with a rib injury. McGregor didn't have much time to prepare for a wrestler of Mendes' caliber, but he wouldn't have been able to anyway.
"Really the first round of full wrestling was done in that fight," Kavanagh said. "His timing a little bit on the sprawl and dealing with the shot was not quite there. It started getting better as the fight went on. Do I think a rematch if it does happen down the line would be different? Yes, for both of them."
Kavanagh didn't want to go into the details of McGregor's knee injury, but he did say it was basically fully healed about two weeks out from the fight. They still didn't do any full-speed wrestling or MMA sparring, just in case. The only kind of wrestling training McGregor got was at a slow, flow pace.
"That was the first full test on the knee and he flew through it," Kavanagh said. "He was able to deal with some oppositions. There were some scrambles, there was a lot of wrestling and it held up and there's nothing wrong. So we're 100 percent confident that it's perfect now."
When Aldo withdrew from the bout, Kavanagh thought that it might be wise for McGregor to do the same considering the high stakes. But McGregor would have none of it.
"When I spoke to Conor and I saw this absolutely unshakeable confidence, I knew it was the right decision," Kavanagh said. "I knew it didn't matter who it was going to be.
"For Conor to have done what he did and accepted that change, I think that showed a championship mentality."
McGregor and Aldo will eventually meet once Aldo heals up from what his doctors have told him is a broken rib. But Kavanagh doesn't think McGregor has to beat Aldo in order to prove himself as the champion; the coach thinks he already has earned the distinction.
"I feel like he's the champion," Kavanagh said. "He's done pretty special things in the UFC in quite a short period of time. He's been willing to accept any challenge. I don't know if there's many fighters with what he had in front of him with two weeks notice would have accepted [it]."